Hakusai, also known as Napa cabbage or Chinese cabbage, is a leafy vegetable very similar in appearance and culinary usage as the common European cabbage that most Americans are familiar with. Hakusai, which means “white vegetable” in Japanese, grows a tall, oblong head with densely packed, heavily veined, and slightly spongy textured leaves. Surprisingly, it is a closer relative of bok choy and komatsuna than it is to western cabbages. Hakusai are very hardy vegetables and are resistant to cold weather, making them a very popular ingredient in winter cuisines throughout Asia.
Hakusai can be prepared in a number of different ways, but is most commonly eaten in Japan sliced up and simmered as part of nabe, or Japanese hot pot. Hakusai can be stir-fried with meat and noodles for a quick dinner, or pickled into kimchi to prolong its shelf life. Hakusai leaves are also used as a wrapper for a type of mini-cabbage roll that is extremely popular in oden, a type of Japanese fish-cake soup. The leaves are mostly water, and high in minerals so that they are both low in calories and dense in micro-nutrients when cooked. In short, hakusai is an incredibly versatile vegetable that is delicious no matter how it’s prepared and excellent as a winter staple.